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Burr seeks law to put Brunswick County back in Wilmington MSA

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By Brian Slattery

Since asking for Brunswick County’s return to the Wilmington Metropolitan

Statistical Area didn’t have any effect in Washington, D.C., U.S. Sen. Richard Burr will see if an act of Congress will make a difference.

Burr announced he filed a bill that, if passed, will require the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to consider Brunswick County to be part of the same metropolitan statistical area (MSA) as Wilmington.

The Office of Management of Budget (OMB) issued new delineations for MSAs that separated Brunswick County from the Wilmington MSA in February 2013, based on the Census Bureau’s 2010 information. The OMB moved Brunswick County to the Myrtle Beach, S.C., MSA despite more than 60 years of association with Wilmington.

“The MSAs are commonly used by businesses to determine the size of new markets and to analyze the workforce. Separating Brunswick County from Wilmington has led to an understatement of the size of the state's economy in the region and hurt economic development,” Burr said in the bill’s announcement.

Over the past year Burr and fellow U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, Congressman Mike McIntyre and civic and business leaders from the Brunswick County and Wilmington areas requested a reversal of the MSA realignment.

But the OMB announced last June that Brunswick County will remain attached to Myrtle Beach.

The North Carolina representatives then sent a request to the Obama Administration to reverse the decision by the OMB, but they have not received a response.

If passed, Burr’s legislation would settle the issue by requiring the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to consider Brunswick County part of the Wilmington MSA.

“Everybody in North Carolina knows that Brunswick County is part of the greater Wilmington area,” Burr said. “Instead of mindlessly applying bureaucratic rules, the Administration needs to address what reality looks like for people in North Carolina.”

“I was delighted to see it,” Chairman Phil Norris said of Burr’s announcement.

“I’m glad to see him take the initiative to do so. I understand to happen the bill will have to pass the Senate and the House will have to pass it, then the President has to sign it. So it is not a one-step process. But this is a good start.”

Norris said he did not hear of the effort before Burr announced the bill, but the local representatives continued to bring the MSA situation to the North Carolina delegates’ attention.

“There is no timeline yet, but Sen. Burr is hopeful for swift passage,” Rachel Hicks, Burr’s press secretary, said.

McIntyre plans to introduce legislation in the House similar to Burr’s to “return Brunswick County to its rightful classification in the Wilmington MSA,” said Andrew Simpson, McIntyre’s senior legislative assistant/communications director.

Brunswick Commissioner Frank Williams said he received word the bill would be pursued not long before Burr’s office announced it.

Williams said he hopes Hagan will also support Burr’s effort so it will become a bi-partisan bill, helping it pass.

“I hope everyone will do the right thing and put us back where we belong,” Williams said.

Brunswick Economic Development Commission Executive Director Jim Bradshaw said he received word a few days before the announcement that Burr would try to get a bill through.

“It is a challenge. I hope it works out,” Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw said a switch back to Brunswick County’s affiliation with Wilmington is not critical for industrial development in the county, but it could affect how retailers look at the area.

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.